The Best Lesser-known Royal Palaces to Visit in England
When it comes to UK royal palaces, two names stand out. Rising up at the end of The Mall in London, Buckingham Palace is one of the most famous buildings in the world, the Queen’s London residence. And almost as famous is Windsor Castle, an impressive castle in Berkshire. Famously, her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II regards Buckingham Palace as her office, and Windsor Castle as her home. But did you know that there are many more royal residences and palaces which you can visit? In this article, we’ll show you some of the lesser known attractions for fans of the royals to stop off at.
Built in 1605 and the birthplace of Queen Victoria, Kensington Palace is today home to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their family. Located in west London, it is easy to combine a visit to Buckingham Palace with Kensington Palace, as they are just a few stops apart on the London Underground. Visitors to the palace from June 2021 will be able to visit the newly opened Orangery, which displays, amongst other artefacts, the wedding dress of Princess Diana, mother to Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, who was tragically killed in a car accident in Paris in 1997. Visitors can also explore the rooms where Queen Victoria played and lived as a child and see some of the grand rooms where kings and queens of the past have stayed over the centuries.
Tickets cost £17 for adults and £8.50 for children. Members of the Historic Royal Palaces will be able to visit this attraction and many others featured in this article at no additional cost.
Around 12 miles south-west of London in leafy Richmond upon Thames, Hampton Court Palace is no longer the residence of any British royals. But it has a long history and was a favourite residence of King Henry VIII and many of his unfortunate wives. Set in 60 acres of beautiful gardens, it is a lovely place to visit in summer, featuring both manicured lawns and a wilder meadow, buzzing with insects and birds. There is also the famous Hampton Court Maze, which has been maintained since the 1690s. Inside the palace itself, visitors can admire much of the Royal Collection, the largest private collection of artwork in the world. The palace often holds events through the year so keep an eye our for Easter egg hunts and the winter ice rink.
Visitors can easily reach Hampton Court Palace from London by taking the train from Waterloo Station. Non-members of the Historic Royal Palaces will need to pay an entry fee of £15 (adult) or £7.50 (child). Audio guides are free and throughout your tour you'll encounter many characters from the past.
Heading out of London, Highgrove House near Tetbury, Gloucestershire is the family residence of the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall. Since arriving in 1980, the gardens have been almost an obsession for the Prince of Wales and he is known to be deeply passionate about their care and maintenance. As such, the gardens at Highgrove are regarded as some of the best in the UK. The Arboretum is home to acer, beech and cherry trees, as well as beautiful magnolias. And the Stumpery houses numerous sculptures carved from wood. The Prince of Wales is a champion of wildlife and protecting the natural world, so naturally his gardens reflect this. There is a wildflower meadow, plenty of ponds and flowering plants and the gardens are bursting with native wildlife. Renewable energy powers the indoor areas and numerous other sustainable practices are in place.
The gardens are open to the public on select dates between April and October each year. Entry costs £29.50 (must be booked in advance) for an individual garden tour, though visitors looking for something more extravagant can spend up to £450 for a private group tour.
Located in the county of Norfolk, Sandringham is the Queen’s country escape and was known to be a firm favourite with the late Duke of Edinburgh. Her Majesty spends approximately two months on the estate every year during the winter. The gardens at Sandringham were first opened to the public in 1908 by King Edward VII and a museum was added by George V in 1930. Sandringham House itself has been open to the public since 1977. Visitors to the estate can plunge into the 243 acre Sandringham Royal Park, which includes marked trails for cycling and walking.
Whilst the park is open year round, the house, museum and gardens are only open to the public between March and October, so plan your visit accordingly! Tickets to visit the gardens only cost £12 for adults (children go free), whilst if you’d like to visit the house as well then the price rises to £20.
Whilst Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle are the most well-known of the royal residences, there are plenty of other attractions steeped in history and with well-established links to the modern royal family. The only thing you have to decide is which one to visit first.